Tuesday, August 28, 2012

To The Elders And Leaders Of The United States Of America

      Isn’t it time to look deeply into our hearts to find the true light and spirit of peace to reunify the citizens of our beautiful country?
     Isn’t it true that if we fail to experience the authentic peace of our heart minds, we won’t be able to sense the true depth of sorrow and fear underneath the anger and frustration of fellow Americans?  And to bring the honesty of true, heartfelt peace to them, our words and actions must exemplify that same level of sincerity from within us, must they not?
     We can pray and ask for genuine peace all we want, but unless we dissolve the internal thoughts, beliefs and emotions obstructing us from going there and experiencing it for ourselves, the tranquility we attempt to bring to our fellow citizens will be shallow and meaningless to them; thus, failing to reunify the people of America. 
     Real leadership is a standing, walking vision of peace speaking from the heart directly to the hearts of others.  People would recognize and respond in kind to the authenticity of such a demonstration if it were offered to them and sincerely carried out from a united front of democrat, republican, independent and religious leaders and elders, would they not?
       Isn’t this what the people of our country deserve?

Carroll Edward Young, A Fellow Citizen

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Difficulty In Developing The Mind Of Compassion

      As we observe the current presidential campaigns in the United States right now, I’m sure that many of us are wondering what has happened to the compassion in the ever growing movement toward the ultra right side of conservatism.  If compassion truly allows us to bear witness to the suffering of ourselves and others, then where has it gone?  According to Sharon Salzberg, the author of the book, Loving Kindness, the way to develop compassion is to learn to live with sympathy for all living beings, without exception.  Furthermore, to do that, she so rightly states, we have to be able to recognize, open to, acknowledge that pain and sorrow exist, and then establish an appropriate relationship with them.  What, then, stops so many Americans and their leaders, especially on the conservative side of the body politic from doing so?
      Perhaps, the answer is in what Sharon says next, “Compassion means taking the time to look at the conditions, or the building blocks, of any situation.  We must be able to look at things as they actually are in each moment.  We must have the openness and spaciousness to see both the conditions and the content.”  Although a lot of people would plead ignorance to knowing how to do this, looking inside ourselves we experience the fears that prevent us from viewing pain and sorrow directly.  Besides that, maybe the fear of knowing that once we see these things we won’t be able to avoid taking appropriate action is also there.  How about observing some of the poor children with blackened teeth due to the lack of access to training and proper dental care?  How about the workers like our sons and daughters, after having lost their jobs and insurance, have also lost all of their teeth simply because they had to wait until they could be treated in a hospital emergency room?  How about others who have died of cancer, like my nephew, because they couldn’t afford to get the appropriate analyses to make an adequate diagnosis until the people in charge of workers compensation had finally given their approval?  These examples are only the tip of the iceberg.
      Why not open to them?  We could go and spend a few minutes with the people who are suffering this pain with its accompanying sorrow, and we could also go on line to see their photos and videos.  (Although, there is nothing like seeing it first hand, is there?)  After experiencing the reality facing our fellow citizens, we should have developed some feelings of sympathy and compassion (the desire to take away the suffering) for them.  That is exactly the time to simply become quiet and focused for about five minutes, bring them and their suffering into our thoughts, attend to it single pointedly, and affirm to them again and again, “May you be free of your pain and sorrow.  May you find peace.”  These aspirations are also called the prayer of loving kindness, one that is specifically designed to nurture compassion.  And with the use of such a tool we begin to see its benefits.
      Saying these words and contemplating what we observe as we go through this process repeatedly, our heart mind begins to open as we sympathize and empathize by seeing the conditions and content of agony.  Perhaps, we even begin to witness and experience our own fear of suffering, learning that we, too, are not separate but are in unity with the misery of others.  (We might see the truth in what physicists say:  “Nothing is separate.”)  Just by being in the here and now in vertical time, paying unwavering attention to the pain we feel, we may find ourselves learning to let it go and pass away.  On finishing each session of loving kindness designed for compassion, we may evolve into taking action with all our skill.  Even something as simple as being present with another who is in pain is often enough.  That person will, indeed, feel our compassion. 
      Asking ourselves what stops fellow Americans and our leaders from acknowledging the pain and sorrow that truly exists in our society, we soon find ourselves having a solid session of interbeing, the talented communication between our inner and outer selves.  So doing, we would have to be as unfeeling as a rock not to be opened by the experience of suffering in front of and within us.  Throughout the process, which may become a daily practice, we probably learn more than we knew existed as it pertains to misery, and we see that we, too, can benefit through compassionate action within ourselves and with others. In conclusion, why should we or the people on the political right of our society hesitate? 

Benefits of Loving Kindness Practice for Aging Wisely

      Going through the stages of aging is a challenge for all of us and one that we’re willing to make, but we’d probably like to do it a bit better than we are.  If we’re fully engaged in this process, then finding some tools or techniques to help us is a priority.  We’ll locate others willing to share useful information and teach us the skills associated with it when we really investigate our options.   For example, as the tools of concentration and mindfulness help us to focus on and hold arising and passing fearful thoughts, emotions, and feelings under a laser-like gaze, they are combined with the valuable technique of loving kindness.
      Resulting from this process are some benefits that make it particularly important for those of us who wish to age wisely.  First, the approach of loving kindness balances and softens the outcomes of concentration and mindfulness.  This can be quite helpful since they often uproot some difficult, unresolved emotions or feelings, which may take time to process.  Next, being kind to ourselves can overcome the feeling of isolation.  Such a benefit, for example, offers a hand of security to people who are alone after having lost a spouse or someone else dear to them.  One sleeps better and awakens more easily with fewer fears if he or she feels the comfort of not having been abandoned.  Third, when we become committed to the force of loving kindness, then people know they can trust us.  Obviously, this makes it easier to have more friends and loving relatives who come to visit.  Next, as we sincerely progress in the use of this technique, we begin to notice a facial radiance, peace of mind, smiles and good humor that weren’t there before.  Life gradually starts to show us new possibilities, and we find ourselves adapting to the stages of aging, having become a bit wiser for our efforts.  Finally, we begin to embrace life in ways that were not possible before, even seeing the goodness in others and finding that in return.  Compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity have, for example, now made it into our lives.  How wonderful!
      Combining loving kindness with its accompanying techniques puts a beneficial, balancing, and softening cap on a useful practice for people in the stages of aging.  The emotions, feelings, and thoughts that once seemed to hold one’s life captive have now become manageable.  And we begin to see how some of the properties of loving kindness, such as compassion, may be extended in additional practices.  In conclusion, we may realize that the employment of concentration, mindfulness, and loving kindness is not only quite useful but also beneficial as a complete program for wellness in growing older and wiser.  How satisfying that would be!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Benefits of Mindfulness Practice for Aging Wisely

      While there are many benefits that result from routinely practicing concentration, another technique is needed to permit us to grow in using the wisdom to which we open as we age.  Such a means is essential for living a happier, more joyful life as a senior even as we’re serving others.  It helps us to witness the truth in our experiences, and it leads us to a certainty in aging and changing that meditative practice aids in seeing through our problems and difficulties to find new ways to solve them. Therefore, as we go through the stages of the aging process, from recognition to coming to terms to adaptation and appreciation, it’s possible to benefit from partnering concentration with mindfulness practice every step of the way.
      For example, this valuable method lets us pay attention to whatever we direct our mind to focus on, i.e., the body, the feelings, and the mind.  As we start to undergo the first phase of aging, it has often hit us as if with lightning.  This is where we begin to experience the real benefit of mindfulness practice, for it takes the initial shock, fear and worry and starts to transform them into peace and tranquility, whereby we observe without being lost in various mind states.  By the time we’ve passed into the adaptation stage, we may have seen mindfulness turn physical and mental pain into something tolerable.  We now know how to use this technique like a medicinal therapy to resolve other obstacles related to growing older.  It’s helped us to realize insights that are not only useful to us but also to those around us, showing how to let go of our attachment to impermanence (things, people, ideas, etc.), while staying in the here and now.    Finally, by the time we’ve moved into the final phase of growing older and wiser, we’re feeling a great deal of satisfaction for the journey we’ve had through life, we’re knowledgeable of how to rest in awareness and let go of the tentativeness of this identify as we make the final transition into death.  Oftentimes, many of us would not want to go back to our younger days, even if we could, due to the support of mindfulness in getting to where we are now.  We feel a vast amount of appreciation in life for the wisdom we’ve experienced and what we’ve accomplished in the service of others.
      On the other hand, many of us have seen and been part of the journeys experienced by seniors 50 and over failing to complete the stages of aging wisely.  This was, in large part, because of not knowing how to practice mindfulness but also choosing to deny its validity.  Instead, they went through a lot of unnecessary suffering.  For example, when they began to notice they were aging, they started complaining.  As they continued to age, their worries and fears persisted in accumulating, and many of them became quite depressed.  When they passed away, they often did so in desperate situations, crying out in loneliness and hopelessness, sometimes quite angry and horrible to family and others taking care of them.  It was not only tragic to those suffering but also to others who observed and wished for a better way to leave this life, fearing they might also have to endure what they were seeing.
     Therefore, as we’ve seen above, partnering concentration with mindfulness practice benefits our progress through the aging process.  It allows us to focus like a laser beam on what’s important, observe without getting lost in the presenting issue, and realize some peace and happiness while seeing the truth in the experience; on the other hand, seniors who don’t take advantage of using mindfulness sometimes fail to complete the stages of aging and die horribly.    As for those who have prepared themselves for getting older, they usually anticipate it with a frame of mind decidedly more positive than those who have not involved themselves with such meditative practice, one that is easily taken from the cushion or chair into daily living.  In conclusion, if one needs additional information to more seriously consider what is being said here, I suggest that he or she go to places where older people are suffering and contemplate the truth in their external circumstances and aging process.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Benefits of Concentration Practice for Aging Wisely

Sometimes it takes a lot to take us out of our youthful, automatic approach to living and wake us up to what is consciously going on in our lives.  We may or may not be shocked by what we see as the onset of getting older, but it could motivate us to look for some assistance to cope with its unrelenting changes. While the art of focusing our attention on an object, such as the breath, does help in the four stages of aging, perhaps it’s most beneficial in the first.

After all, the earliest recognition that we are aging has probably occurred because of some physical or mental alteration in our lives, which certainly can be gradual but is oftentimes like a bolt of lightning.  It follows, then, that the initial benefit of a concentration practice, if we have it in hand, is to help us regain our stability after such a shock.  For example, if we’re experiencing high blood pressure, focusing on something as simple as our breathing, will assist in restoring it to something closer to normal.  If we’re going through pain, concentration will serve as the foundation for other practices that will make it more tolerable.  Through all of this we begin to realize a sense of space in which we might enjoy some rest and temporary peace.  Moreover, we’ll have gained a greater awareness over what’s going on with our physicality. Secondly, we’ll be giving ourselves a window of opportunity to regain and increase our mental clarity.  We will begin to see ourselves in a different light with less and less confusion and ignorance.  We’ll realize the value of the foundation concentration offers to the next meditative step, mindfulness, which permits us to explore the different levels of awareness within us.  We might even experience the value of silence in reducing harmful speech.  Our ability to “interbe”, the level of communication we have between our inner and outer being, may also become enhanced, thus, creating a balance not previously experienced.  And all the while, we might discover we can be of service to others who are also experiencing the initial stages of aging.

Obviously, using the enhanced version of what we used to think of as “counting to 10” or “taking three deep breaths,” before responding to a stressful situation, has become a lifeline right from the initial shock of what caused us to recognize that we’re aging.  Much like me, who woke up in the middle of the night a few months ago feeling uncommon stress in my chest, we’ve experienced one or two of the benefits of practicing concentration within the first few minutes.  Moreover, taking a walk in nature becomes a joy due to our increasing ability to focus and sincerely take gratitude in its beauty.  In conclusion, most people, who have truly experienced the initial stage of aging and begun a concentration practice, will continue, without a doubt, to enjoy and expand its infinite value in daily living.  And you?

Skillful Means For Everyday Living

      As adults in our middle and senior years, we sometimes find ourselves facing stressful obstacles in our personal and professional lives.  Our jobs are threatened by the world economy, our relationships are pushed to the limits by outside influences, and our time is increasingly saturated by an artificial environment instead of the nourishing surroundings of nature. Physical exhaustion, mental confusion, and emotional trauma frequently result. We need a personal and practical method to help us manage the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of aging wisely in a tranquil and beneficial manner.
      Such a means is found by many in the major techniques of meditation practice, which are easily taken from the cushion or chair into everyday life.  The first step is learning to concentrate or focus.  Using this valuable skill in our lives can produce some really beneficial outcomes.  For example, being recognized as a stable leader, winning ballgames like the Los Angeles Lakers, and being cool headed around the ups and downs of parenting.  The second step is developing a practice called  mindfulness.  Being able to combine our attention with a solid focus allows wisdom to become part of making intelligent decisions at home and at work.  For example, how many people knew that Steve Jobs was a practitioner of Zen meditation?  His mindfulness certainly made Apple a huge success!  The last part of the practice is applying a step called loving kindness.  While the ability to concentrate and pay attention without judging opens us to wisdom, kindness allows us to balance and soften some of the affects that arise as we’ve been applying concentration and mindfulness. This action results in being more considerate and empathetic with ourselves and others.  For instance, instead of ignoring our employees, spouses, or adult children, we take the time to listen and help them solve some really important issues that are mutually productive.  The practice of loving kindness promotes compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity in our lives.
      Thus, after careful consideration of the foregoing information, we may know that we need a support system for daily living to grow older and wiser, one that is both personal and professional.  This means, normally called meditation, allows us to skillfully focus, pay attention, and be kind in the often stressful activities of everyday life.  Being able to remain calm in the face of stress, think clearly, and feel good about one’s actions afterwards is more than a great relief.  As a person in this category, I can’t count the number of times I’ve whispered the word “thanks” to the wonderful teachers who have taught me these skills.  May you, indeed, take advantage of this opportunity to pass through the stages of aging with wisdom.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Through The Eyes Of Aging Wisely

      Certainly, we’ve all heard the expression “Old dogs can’t learn new tricks”.  While I don’t necessarily subscribe to this adage, I do say, “An old dog can look at past experiences and recuperate the lessons that weren’t purposely being taught by the teachers of the moment.”  Of course, this implies using a talent that isn’t normally taught by ordinary instructors, especially those who teach children and teenagers.   This is just one of the valuable lessons I’ve learned as a result of developing a one-day workshop, called “Aging Wisely,” that I’ll soon be giving in Spanish here in Mexico. 
      The research for this project prompted me to look at the commonalities among people of different religions as well as those who aren’t part of any specific faith.  We’re normally taught moral principles to live by, what we need to do to earn a living, and to whom or where we go for help when all else fails.  The ones teaching us begin with the parents and other relatives plus the teachers in schools and religious institutions; subsequently, they are exchanged for trainers, supervisors, coworkers, and community and organizational leaders.  The general methods used to guide us are lecturing, modeling, discussing, testing and experiencing for ourselves.  Learning begins at birth and continues until death—usually.
      All too often, we learn to parrot instead of realize the deeper meaning behind a particular belief or principle, even when it’s not understood by the one giving the lesson.  For example, although basic moral standards are commonly found between Christianity, Buddhism, and Judaism and generally make practical sense, many teenagers rebel to how they are reinforced.  And, of course, such an uprising generally leads to mistakes on the part of those who are revolting as well as the ones attempting to teach and enforce, through no fault of their own, what they perceive as correct.  Finally, the consequences of how we are taught are seen in acts of reactive non thinking which culminate in problems at the highest levels of world societies, not to mention the widespread violence within and between the cultures they lead.
      But when the people who raise and guide others take the time to help them internally realize the ideas and principles they’re being taught, the result is unmistakably peaceful, practical and infinitely valuable.  According to a world renowned teacher, don’t believe anything, try it for yourself and if it’s true for you, accept it; otherwise, let it go and only return to it if it becomes true for you later on.  As I was researching the material for the workshop, I realized how much I’d missed learning as a child and teenager.  If only, I reflected, I’d been taught to speak a principle to myself in which I was being instructed, pause, pay attention to the thoughts, images, and feelings arising from inside my being in response to the tenet, and then repeat this pattern a few more times, culminating in reflecting upon what I’d learned from my natural resources.  Subsequently, if I’d been given the opportunity to inform the teacher of what I’d learned from my inner self and received his or her constructive criticism, that would have improved my learning without suffering any harm, and it’s possible I wouldn’t have become the rebellious youth I was, prone to making mistakes, and parroting things with or without any real truth in them.
      However, this old dog that has seen through the eyes of aging wisely, can now return to those teachings of the past and, perhaps, learn the truth and/or non truths behind them.